Raqqa: Coalition Begins Targeting Roads Out of the City as Russia/Assad Focus on Aleppo

Syrian pro-government forces stand on a street in al-Maadi district of eastern Aleppo on December 11, 2016 after they retook a large part of it from rebel fighters. Thousands of civilians poured out of rebel areas of Aleppo as Syria's army pushed to take the last remnants of opposition-held territory …
GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images

The operation to liberate the Islamic State “capital” of Raqqa, Syria, has continued to advance, with the U.S. Department of Defense announcing a new deployment and coalition forces confirming the destruction of roads out of the city to trap Islamic State terrorists in.

The Kurdish outlet Rudaw reports Monday that NGOs on the ground have confirmed U.S.-led coalition attacks on the roads and bridges that connect Raqqa to the outside world. “The conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that warplanes ‘believed to belong to the International Coalition’ on Saturday bombed ‘bridges and corridors’ in the countryside west and northwest of Raqqa,” Rudaw reports.

The tactic is similar to that used in Mosul, Iraq — the second-largest city under Islamic State control — where the coalition has bombed out of use five of the six bridges that lead out of the city, trapping Islamic State jihadis who may seek to flee the ground invasion.

In addition to the continued air attacks by the U.S.-led coalition, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced Monday that the United States would send an additional 200 troops to Syria, which will “recruit, organize, train and advise local Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces to fight IS,” according to the Associated Press.

The deployment follows an announcement from the moderate rebel coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that they would begin an advanced stage of the liberation operation. “In their march toward Raqqa, the SDF has liberated dozens of villages and more than 700 square miles of ISIL-held terrain… adding that local Arab fighters continue to join the SDF and fight to liberate their own land,” a statement from U.S. Central Command read on Monday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces began the Raqqa operation in November. They estimated that 30,000 fighters — including Kurds, Turkmen, and Arab opposition to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — would ultimately be needed to free the city.

The announcement of the new phase in liberating Raqqa follows an announcement from Syrian government and Russian fighters that northern Aleppo city will soon be completely under Assad control. “The battle in east Aleppo should end quickly. They [rebels] don’t have much time. They either have to surrender or die,” Syrian Lieutenant-General Zaid al-Saleh said this week. The Syrian state-run SANA news operation claims that there has been a “big collapse of the terrorists’ [anti-Assad opposition] morale.”

Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik appears to have found in the “liberation” of Aleppo evidence that Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has been more successful than America’s. Sputnik cites numerous Russian “analysts” stating that the U.S. operation in Raqqa has not had “a breakthrough” like the Aleppo operation.

“Washington is seriously concerned that during the upcoming peace talks, it is Moscow which will play the role of a chief mediator,” political analyst Vladimir Ardayev of the International Information Agency Rossiya Segodnya tells the agency.

The major difference between Raqqa and Aleppo, however, is that Aleppo has no known Islamic State presence, so the Russian “victory” there only serves to solidify Assad’s power, not to diminish the Islamic State’s. Adding to the evidence that Assad’s Russian-backed war on non-Islamic State rebels has aided ISIS, the terrorist organization has reconquered the ancient city of Palmyra. “In retaking Palmyra, the extremist group appeared to be taking advantage of the Syrian and Russian preoccupation with Aleppo.”

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